Eboni Booth’s Primary Trust at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre is a genial, gentle tale of a genial, gentle young man and his difficulty negotiating the speed bumps of life.
Kenneth (a charmingly charismatic William Jackson Harper) spends a great deal of time speaking to the audience revealing the details of a superficially pleasant life which includes a ritualistic daily visit to Wally’s Restaurant (“New York’s oldest tiki bar”) to imbibe one mai-tai after another during Happy Hour, served by an ever-changing troupe of waiters, all played with fine comic timing by the delightful April Matthis.
He lives in the tiny town of Cranberry, New York, a suburb of Rochester, surrealistically re-created by scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg, in a time “before smart phones.”
Not much happens on the surface in Primary Trust, but whatever is there is all accompanied by the quietly extraordinary Luke Wygodny who is on stage, strumming quietly on his guitar as the audience enters the theater. He then doubles as Wally’s house musician, providing mood music on a keyboard and a cello.
Kenneth works for Sam (Jay O. Sanders, likeable and warm) who owns a bookstore. Unfortunately, Sam, who is not well, has decided to close the shop and move to warmer climes with his wife Lulu, leaving Ken bereft and doubling down on the mai-tais.
He turns even more anxiously to his imaginary friend, Bert (Eric Berryman, solid and pleasant, even if he doesn’t really exist) who came into Ken’s life after he was orphaned at the age of ten, mourning the loss of his beloved mom.
The newest Wally waitress is Corinna (Matthis) who suggests that the now unemployed Ken try to get a job as a teller at Primary Trust, one of the local banks where he meets Clay (Sanders, again), the bank’s manager.
Ken takes to his new position like the proverbial fish to water, soon setting a local record as seller of the year, pleasing Clay. So pleased is Ken that he even shows the fantasy Bert around the bank, boasting about how clean the locker room and bathrooms are.
Corinna runs into Ken and invites him to a pretentiously posh French bistro and introduces him to the joys of martinis. (How these characters can afford so much drinking is never revealed.) They both exchange intimacies about their lives as they get drunk, causing Bert to be jealous leading to a climactic outburst of emotions from all concerned.
What keeps Primary Trust afloat is the light touch of its director, Knud Adams, who never lets Booth’s play bog down. Rather than wallow in sadness, Adams permits the actors—all fine—to ride the gentle waves of their fates.
Qween Jean’s character perfect costumes, Isabella Byrd’s subtle lighting, and Mikaal Sulaiman’s evocative sound design all combine with Wygodny’s unobtrusive, but mood setting music to give Primary Trust an emotional depth that hits you quietly, but movingly.
Primary Trust (through July 2, 2023)
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-719-1300 or visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org
Running time: 105 minutes without an intermission